« Back to Frieze

‘This town ain’t nothing but a ghost town …’

by Dan Fox

Inhabitants of the British wing of the infinitely large walk-in-wardrobe that is 1980s revivalism have recently been looking through the rail marked ‘politics’:

1. This month sees the release of Yes, the tenth studio album by the Pet Shop Boys, which features Cold War allegories and songs about celebrity and consumer culture culture. April is also the 25th anniversary of their debut single ‘West End Girls’, a song that would become one of the defining soundtracks to deregulated, privatized, entrepreneurial, Thatcherite Britain. It was released the same year that the Miners Strike would ultimately come to symbolize the triumph of the political right over the left in the UK, a history of which is told in a new book by Frances Beckett and David Hencke. A recent interview for The Quietus  is headlined ‘Pet Shop Boys: Our Back Catalogue is 25 Years of Social Commentary’.

2. The animal rights group, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), requests that the Pet Shop Boys change their name to the Rescue Shelter Boys.

3. The Specials reform for a 30th anniversary tour. If the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘West End Girls’, and its 1985 follow-up, ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’, described, albeit with ironic ambivalence, the free-market individualism of the 1980s, The Specials’ 1981 single, ‘Ghost Town’ and its bleak accompanying promo video, was one of the decade’s most succinct expressions of social discontent in the UK.

4. Spandau Ballet announce they are to reform.

5. Michael Hann, in The Guardian, argues that Spandau Ballet were the true ‘sound of Thatcherism’.

6. David Stubbs, in The Quietus, traces the political divisions between ‘Thatcherite pop and Marxist funk’.

7. The divisions between ‘Thatcherite pop and Marxist funk’ are also traced in ‘Do It Yourself – The Story of Rough Trade’ an in-depth documentary about the influential record label and shop, Rough Trade, screened by the BBC in March. A central topic of the film is the collective, non-hierarchical principles along which the organization was run in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

8. The documentary ‘ON/OFF: Mark Stewart – Pop Group to Maffia’ is premiered this month at the East London Film Festival. The film follows the career of Mark Stewart, whose career began in the early 1980s with the highly politicized Bristol band The Pop Group.

9. Former members of The Stone Roses continue to scotch the ever-optimistic rumours that they will reform for the 20th anniversary of their 1989 debut album. Released as the first wave of acid house was sweeping across UK youth culture, the sunny, 1960s-inflected melodies of their eponymous debut heralded the 1990s by taking the creed of Thatcherite individualism into a new realm of depoliticized hedonism with songs such as ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ and ‘I Am the Resurrection’.

10. In the past four months, ABC, Belinda Carlisle, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen, Erasure, Go West, Heaven 17, Magazine, Morrissey, Throbbing Gristle, Ultravox and U2 have all released new records, gone on tour, or announced that they would reform. It is surely only a matter of time until the Red Wedge bands regroup for old times sake.

How did that Billy Bragg song go? ‘I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for a new England’ …

About the author

  • Dan Fox's photo

    Dan Fox is co-editor of frieze and is based in New York.

    His book Pretentiousness: Why It Matters will be published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in the UK in February 2016, and by Coffee House Books in the US in April 2016. In 2015 he appeared on the album ‘Cave Moderne’ by The God in Hackney and the debut LP by Big Legs, both on Junior Aspirin Records